Division Champs In 2005, Winless In NFC South In '06
Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium was all too fitting - though eerie in nature. As the Bucs lost a six-point halftime lead en route to a 17-6 loss to Atlanta, the team's alumni looked on. Perhaps they could have been of some comfort.

The reason: For the first time since 1977, Tampa Bay went winless in the division. Making matters worse: Last season the squad was 5-1 in the division and the NFC South champ. This year, they'll finish last at 0-6.

"This isn't the same team that went 5-1 in the division last year," Jon Gruden said. "Same helmet, same uniform, not the same team. Guys are playing hard and I compliment them for that and we'll continue to do that. We've got to continue to develop some young players that are going to have to play in Chicago against the defending NFC [North] champions and finish the season strong and at the end of the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will address all your questions."

The first taste of a division victory for the franchise - back in the NFC Central days - came Sept. 17, 1978, against the Minnesota Vikings. That's back when One Buc Place was pristine and one month and three days after Bucs running back Michael Pittman's third birthday. As frustrating as losing was then, it's just as intense today.

"I'm very frustrated. A lot of guys on the team are frustrated to be swept in the NFC South," said Pittman, who led the team with seven receptions for 73 yards. "We're all competitors in here and it's just hard for people who compete and appreciate the game because we put in a lot of work. [Organized team activities], spring ball, regular training camp and to be 3-10 right now as a team, I know the coaches are frustrated. I'm very frustrated, the players are frustrated, but that's just what it's been all year. That's the word of the season - frustration."

The chance at redemption - at least when it comes to the division - is long gone. All that's left is the waning moments of a difficult season.

"It broke my heart to see those guys," Gruden said of the more than 100 alumni who were exalted during a halftime ceremony. "Like we're being criticized now, and rightfully so, they've been criticized - a lot of them - for the inability to get it done or whatever. It's camaraderie that I think we need in this country, and, certainly, in this business, because there's going to be some dark times. There's going to be some real highs and some ugly lows, but at the end of the day to have a fraternity of guys that have experienced the good and the bad, sometimes makes these real sick moments at least feel a little bit better."

The best salve for that wound would be beating the final three opponents - Chicago, Cleveland and Seattle. "This is about as bad of a feeling as I think you can have right now," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "It's not the end of the world, obviously. We have three games to play for something and we'll get back to it."

Eddie Daniels, The Tampa Tribune December 2006